Tanzania Court Refutes Objections to Opposition Leader’s Trial
The terrorist lawsuit against the leader of Tanzania’s major opposition party may go forward as planned, a high court judge in Dar es Salaam ruled Wednesday, rejecting objections by his party.
Chadema party leader Freeman Mbowe and his allies have characterized the accusations as a politically motivated attempt to suppress opposition and accused police of abusing him in prison.
His attorneys had claimed that the high court’s Corruption and Economic Crimes Division where he appeared had no authority to hear the matter, which was previously being handled by a magistrate’s court.
But on Wednesday judge Elinaza Luvanda ruled that “this court has the authority to handle terrorist matters and thus I don’t agree with the argument raised by defendants.”
The hearing took place under heavy security, with several officials from foreign embassies and Chadema’s top leaders in attendance, but many media were barred from accessing the courtroom by police.
Mbowe has been behind bars since July 21 when he was detained together with a number of other top Chadema leaders in a night-time police raid hours before they were to conduct a public debate to seek constitutional change.
The 59-year-old has been charged with terrorist funding and conspiracy in a case that has raised worries about democracy and the rule of law under President Samia Suluhu Hassan.
On Monday, Mbowe had gone in court to pursue a lawsuit against senior legal authorities, alleging his constitutional rights had been infringed during his detention and when he was accused.
His defense team claims he was detained without charge for five days and then charged without his counsel being present.
The opposition has condemned the arrests as a return to the repressive reign of Tanzania’s late leader John Magufuli who died unexpectedly in March.
There had been optimism Hassan would bring about a new age of democracy following the increasingly authoritarian reign of Magufuli, dubbed the “Bulldozer” for his uncompromising manner.
But Chadema leaders believe the arrests indicate a growing slide towards “dictatorship.”
Prosecutors said the charges against Mbowe do not relate to the constitutional reform conference Chadema had intended to host in the port city of Mwanza in July, but to alleged crimes last year in another area of Tanzania.
Chadema has stated authorities accuse Mbowe of plotting to attack a public figure, and of donating 600,000 Tanzanian shillings ($260/220 euros) towards blowing up fuel stations and public gatherings and chopping down trees to obstruct highways.